America’s biggest threats? Nation’s chief defender talks danger

Tribune Content Agency

LAS VEGAS — Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday that the biggest threats to the security of the United States are domestic terrorists, China and fentanyl smuggling.

The secretary also said that America’s immigration system is “broken” and he defended the Biden administration’s border policy as “a strategy of developing lawful pathways for people to reach the United States when they qualify to reach the United States in a safe and orderly way.”

Mayorkas sat down for a brief interview following his remarks at the Mandalay Bay hotel before the International Counterterrorism Conference, co-sponsored by Metropolitan Police Department and the Virginia-based non-profit Leadership in Counter Terrorism Alumni Association.

Mayorkas, whose department was created in 2003 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has said in the past that the origin of threats to the homeland have shifted dramatically since then.

To Mayorkas, it’s no longer as much about foreign terrorists than the homegrown kind, including people on American soil inspired by radicalized foreigners to small cells of individuals stimulated to violence based on extreme ideologies such as white supremacy, anti-Semitism and anti-government attitudes.

“I came here to Las Vegas to speak to the law enforcement community and others domestically and internationally about the threat of terrorism and targeted violence, and with respect to terrorism, the most prominent threat that we are encountering now is a threat of domestic violent extremists,” the secretary said.

“Individuals drawn to violence because of an ideology of hate, false narrative, anti-government views, personal grievances and the like,” he said.

The next major issue is the smuggling into the country of the potent, synthetic opiate fentanyl, “which is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year,” he said

Then there are foreign nation-states “that seek to do us harm — the People’s Republic of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.”

China in particular exports chemicals that serve as the ingredients for fentanyl, which frequently causes deadly overdoses when ingested in only tiny amounts.

“We are deeply concerned about the (People’s Republic of China)’s shipment of precursor chemicals as well as equipment used to manufacture fentanyl to other countries, to Mexico and then the finished product is brought through the ports of entry predominantly.”

More than 90% of the fentanyl trafficked into the United States comes through ports of entry – where people may enter a country legally — including along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I believe the data shows that approximately 70% or more of the individuals arrested smuggling fentanyl into this country are U.S. citizens,” he said.

When asked about the years-long surge of thousands of migrants at the border with Mexico, coupled with the expiration last month of Title 42 restrictions on crossings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mayorkas said deep-seated reforms are required via new laws from Congress.

“The challenge of migration is a long standing challenge,” he said. “The fundamental issue is that we are dealing with an immigration system in this country that is broken.”

“And there is unanimity about that and we need legislation. We’re dealing with a system that has not been updated since the 1990s. That is our most fundamental challenge.”

He pointed to his May 11 announced policy shift, from Title 42 to enforcing Title 8 immigration measures that the homeland security website stated would “expeditiously process and remove individuals who arrive at the U.S. border unlawfully and do not have a legal basis to remain.”

Those who do not have authorization or a lawful pathway to cross the border or point of entry “will be presumed ineligible for asylum, absent an applicable exception” and if removed, would be barred from re-entry for at least five years and may face criminal prosecution if they try again, the policy states.

“We have launched a strategy of developing lawful pathways for people to reach the United States when they qualify to reach the United States in a safe and orderly way,” he said.

“And we’re delivering a consequence for those who do not take advantage of those lawful pathways, and that strategy is proving effective.”

Mayorkas cited his support for President Biden’s immigration policies, such as “strengthening our border security” and “a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals who’ve been contributing to our country.”

On whether he is concerned about calls for his impeachment by some Republicans in the House of Representatives, he said he remains confident and is focused on his job.

“There’s a lot work to do,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud to support the 260,000 people in the Department of Homeland Security and I’ll continue to support them.”